Montreal

Since I’ve not blogged in yonks, I am trying to get caught up…

A while ago, Phil & I made an impromptu trip to Montreal.  Growing up in New England, going to Montreal seems to be a rite of passage where when you turn 18. Everybody piles into a car & heads towards the land of legal drinking, strip clubs, & casinos…sort of like New Orleans for the Northeast set.

I was not one of those 18 year olds so I didn’t actually see Montreal until I was in my mid-20s.  I really love it there – not necessarily for the vices but more because it’s a real outlier in a lot of ways.  It’s fiercely French in its own way.  It’s mellow, local, artsy, & intellectual with loads of nice people. Also, most of the infrastructure hasn’t been updated since the 1967 World Expo which gives it a real industrial, mid-century vibe (swoon!).  If you’re looking for a low key, easy vacation & you like a lot of art/small local businesses/DIY vibe, I cannot recommend Montreal enough.

Logistics
It’s about 5 hours by car from Boston, i.e. about 1 tank of gas.  Right now, with the exchange rate not being great, I recommend getting any refills in Vermont.  Gas in Canada is much more expensive by ounce/ml & you purchase it in litres.

Bring your passport.  You can get in with the card or just a license still…but going through customs will be quicker if they can just scan your passport.

Montreal is a walkable city & their subway is super efficient.  Put your car in a garage & leave it there for the duration of your vacation.  You can get street parking but they’re uber efficient with ticketing & towing.  So, $20 a day is worth not having to worry or deal with any hassles.

Lodging
There are plenty of options.  We stayed at Le Relais Lyonnais, which is a great, small budget hotel.  It’s in the middle of the student quarter (kind of like staying at the cheap end of Newbury Street). It’s not posh or quiet but well located.  If I needed a hotel again, I’d stay there.  Although, we agreed that next we’d probably rent an apartment so we can cook.

Sights
At this point, I don’t really do too much sightseeing…my vacations here are really all about nipping away & hiding for a few days.  However, here are some highlights I’ve enjoyed:
Hiking up Mont Royal – Montreal’s namesake, gorgeous city views
Old Town – It’s a cross between Faneuil Hall, the Freedom Trail, & Fort Point Channel – historic & repurposed – with shops, restaurants, & museums.
Musee d’art contemporain – Modern art museum with a really cool gift shop.
Botanical Gardens & Insectarium – I love that it’s called “Space for life” in French.  You won’t see vastly different things here since we share the same basic climate but it’s still cool.
Scandinavian Spa – If you’re looking to relax, this is THE place.  Aside from the traditional spa services, they have a thermal pool & waterfall, pine sauna, & steam room.  They offer discounted day passes during the week.  Woo hoo!!!

Food
Montreal is a great city.  The “doing your own thing” really comes into play here. I recommend the following:
Marche Jean Talon – We visited almost all the public markets & this was the biggest & best.  Most everything was local & organic.  It was half wholesale, half consumer with loads of prepared food stalls (local sausages, fish, bakeries, ice cream, etc.). We got an amazing flat of mixed local berries with edible flowers…I didn’t know you could eat orchids (taste like bland celery)
Depanneur Le Pick-Up – This is a refurbished convenience store/lunch counter within walking distance from Marche Jean Talon.  The line snakes through the store but it moves quickly.  There’s only 2 people cooking & prepping so it can take a while to get your food.  If you don’t get takeaway, there’s table service…but the tables are in front, on the side, in the back. Often, the servers are walking around looking for people.  It works fine but I can see how some impatient people wouldn’t be having it.
La Banquise – 30+ kinds of poutine in a place that took some cues from Howard Johnsons circa 1974. I.LOVE.IT. AND – it has a giant poster of one my most favoritest movies ever – C.R.A.Z.Y. – signed by the director.  A quick note – it’s cash only & even though we had table service, we had to pay as soon as we ordered. Also, it’s open all night.
Buvette Chez Simone – Wine bar with an expansive list.  When you sit down, they give you paper & a pencil to check off which “snacks” you’d like with your wine.  These weren’t just snacks – these were full on US appetizer sizes of things.  The food was fresh & amazing – we would’ve gone twice if we stayed longer.
Jewish Neighborhood Nibbles:
Willensky’s – go once, go more if you like baloney!
Fairmount Bagel – Montreal bagels are good – they’re not as glossy on the outside/chewy on the inside like a lot of US bagels.  They’re also a little sweeter.
KemCoba Gelato – This place had a line out the door – with good reason.  A small dish will give you 2 scoops if you don’t opt for the soft serve.
Chocolats Andree – Locally made chocolates.  The shop is in a row house & the case is in the small living room. They have a limited, seasonal selection each day – all the pieces are really small but you can tell it’s a true labor of love.

And…drumroll, please…
Joe Beef, Liverpool House, & Le Vin Papillion
It’s everything you’ve ever heard. Seriously.  I read an interview with one of the owners where he was talking about the liqueur, Chartreuse.  He described it as a “green monster penis – cool to have but you can’t do anything with it”.  I can’t quite articulate my thoughts but that quote pretty much sums up the restaurants – irreverent, over the top, & “I’m going to do whatever I want & it’s going to be awesome.”.
If you go…I recommend the following – go to Liverpool House first when it’s still light out.  It’s more casual and a bit easier to maneuver.  The menu is written on a chalkboard on the wall in all 3 places.  Liverpool House had the shortest menu & the tables were more spaced out. It was easy to stand up; read the menu; and not feel like you were disturbing somebody’s dinner.  Once you get the hang of that, go to Joe Beef.  The menu there is much more expansive – it goes around the whole restaurant (2 rooms). The light is low; the tables are close together; & servers are dodging you, the tables, & each other.  I advise dispatching one person from your party to go take photos of all the walls with his/her phone & then, show them to everybody else at the table.  The food is SO good. Be prepared for big portions of farm food – lots of meat, veggies, & dairy.  I ended up with leftovers that gave me 4 more meals from both places.

Last but not least – french fries from anywhere (except fast food chains).  Those fresh Quebecois potatoes are unparalleled!

If I missed anything, please comment below!

2 Replies to “Montreal”

  1. I've read your review of your sojourn in YUL with interest and I must admit you nailed it. Kudos for getting the feel of what Montreal but I ticked on one of your affirmation: Montreal is in majority francophone at 75% and we are absolutely fierce about being a Francophone space and we try hard to have the tourist and commercial neighborhoods to be French first and linguistically helpful with tourists next. Unfortunately, globalization and the age of tech seems to have made French obsolete for the young ones. Times are a'changin…
    Next time you come to Montreal, Johanne and I feel compelled to give you some sort of alternate tour: The real life of a Montrealer tour. We are sure you'd get a better feel of what Montreal is about. We'd be absolutely delighted to show you our side of town. I'll even show you rue Briand!!! (If I can, I'll try to get you the street sign to bring back home…

  2. Currius – MERCI MERCI MERCI! I can't believe that comment got through my editing. It's been so long but it was supposed to say something along the lines of how Quebec has done a wonderful job of maintaining it's French heritage despite the English globalization of many things. The people who do speak English go back & forth between French & English so easily. I am jealous! I will never have that kind of proficiency. Also, we will totally take you up on your offer. I am not sure when we will be back. This post reflected a trip from a couple of years ago, older than 2014. I really do love your city & province. It is just plain wonderful!

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